All of our thoughts have been on Superstorm Sandy for more than a week now as we handle the impacts here on Hatteras and Ocracoke and watch with horror what happened to folks in the northeast.
We?re cleaning up after the storm surge, collecting information on Highway 12 and when it will reopen and the Bonner Bridge and when it will be repaired, dealing with transportation by ferry only again, and getting ready for fall visitors.
The Island Free Press has been covering Sandy and its impacts non-stop for more than a week. You can read our stories and see the photos of the storm and damage to Highway 12, which remains closed north of Rodanthe, on the Local News Page.
And we will continue to write about the recovery from Sandy.
However, today we are taking a break from storm coverage to remind readers that there is a very important election next Tuesday.
We will be electing a president and a governor. And here in Dare and Hyde counties we will elect commissioners, a state senator, and a state representative.
Early voting numbers indicate that our minds have not been on voting the past week.
Early voting started on Oct. 18. So far, 6,556 of Dare?s more than 27,000 registered voters have cast their ballots. In 2008, four days before the election, more than 9,425 had voted in the county.
This is an important election for us in Dare County for many reasons, but the top reason is that the new Board of Commissioners will preside over a revaluation of property in the county and set a new tax rate.
Revaluation will be a challenge for the county, and it?s likely that those of us who live and work in Dare will be paying more in property taxes. The question is how much more?
The simple reason is that oceanfront property owners had been carrying the largest share of the property tax burden since the housing boom began 10 years or so ago.
However, oceanfront property has plummeted in value during the recession. It?s lost much more value than more modest homes in the villages and off the oceanfront. Oceanfront property owners will see their taxes fall, and those who are not on the waterfront will carry a larger share of the tax burden.
I wrote about that issue and explained it in more detail in my blog on Oct. 5. You can click here to read that blog.
If the shortfall in Dare County?s $100 million budget is $10 to $15 million, county officials will not be able to keep the property tax what it is now without grossly slashing services. You can?t make up 10 or 15 percent of revenue by reusing paper clips or saving on stamps.
The challenge for the county will be how to keep the tax rate as reasonable as possible while saving where they can in the budget.
I believe some candidates are going to approach the process in more reasonable ways than others, and IFP is ready to make some endorsements in the race for the county board.
The candidates for the board are: District 1: Republican Richard Johnson, Democrat Alfred Jackson, and write-in candidate Sandy Semans Ross; District 2: Democrat Robert Muller and Republican Robert Woodard; District 3: Democrat Warren Judge; District 4: Democrat Allen Burrus and unaffiliated candidate Kevin Conner.
Warren Judge in District 3, the current board chairman, is unopposed.
In District 4, which includes Hatteras Island incumbent Allen Burrus, the current vice-chairman of the board, is facing unaffiliated candidate Kevin Conner.
This is clearly the most important race for Hatteras residents. Though the commissioners serve constituents in all of the county, we want to be sure that our Hatteras commissioner is bringing our issues to the table.
Allen Burrus has done this and is the clear choice in the race.
He?s been straight forward with constituents, willing to say what he thinks, and has worked well with commissioners from both parties. He?s been proactive on our biggest issues of beach access, Highway 12, and the Bonner Bridge replacement. He?s also been very active in advocating for better health care, especially mental health care, in the county.
He is experienced in public service. He?s been on the Board of Commissioners for six years. He previously served on the Board of Elections and Board of Education.
He and his family are and have been supporters of the Hatteras community and involved in many community issues. Allen gives back to the community big time ? as did his late brother Dale.
Burrus is realistic that there will be a tax increase but hopeful that county officials can find savings in the budget.
Burrus has his critics. The most frequently heard criticism is that he?s too business-oriented. He?s the owner of Burrus Red & White Supermarket in Hatteras village. It?s true he is proactive in support of business in the county and on Hatteras.
However, one of the most important things about Allen is that he takes care of the business at hand ? getting things done and making things happen.
Challenger Kevin Conner of Hatteras village is running as an unaffiliated candidate. He is a former chairman of the county Republican Party and a member of the Tea Party.
No new taxes and small government sound like good ideas ? until the smaller government takes away your job or the services that you value.
Conner has all but promised not to raise taxes. He says we don?t need higher taxes. We need more sensible spending. However, you can?t cut your way out of this problem with the revaluation without cutting service.
Some of his ideas have merit, such as more private/public partnerships.
However, his idea to privatize services, such as sanitation and buildings and grounds, is not a good idea for a couple reasons. Attempts at privatizing trash services, for example, have turned out to be more expensive for most of the surrounding areas that have tried it. There is no guarantee that private companies would hire sanitation workers laid off in Dare County. And laying off county employees during this economic time isn?t a good idea. We don?t need more folks out of work.
Also, Conner has proposed eliminating the land transfer tax, which is paid on real estate transactions and is $1 per each $100 of the transaction. The tax is used to fund capital expenditures and pay debt service. The county gets 65 percent of the collections, and the towns share 35 percent.
At one point during the boom years, total tax collections were $15.1 million. Those collections have plummeted, but, still, $4.9 million was collected this year.
If we are dealing with a shortfall in the county budget of $10 to $15 million, do we really want to add making up another $3.2 million? I think not.
In addition to his unrealistic proposals for dealing with revaluation, Conner has another problem.
He says he?s had a 20-year career in hospitality management. Well, sort of. He was a Realtor and broker who had his license revoked by the state?s Real Estate Commission two years ago for mismanagement of funds.
In addition, Conner was found to have operated Conner Resorts, Inc., advertised and collected fees while knowing the firm had a suspended license dating back to 2006.
So, he had his license suspended and then continued to do business for four years without a license.
Some have suggested this problem Conner had with holding deposits and rents he collected on behalf of clients in trust was just a minor oversight on his part.
However, most, if not all, realtors will tell you that this violation of trust is one of the most serious offenses that a licensed broker can be charged with. Having your license suspended for violating that trust and then continuing to violate it is not a ?minor oversight.?
On his Facebook Page, Conner admits he?s made mistakes, but says he has atoned for his missteps.
Mistakes should be forgiven. But if this man broke the trust of his clients for years, can he change in just two years and be handed the public trust?
In the District 1 race, write-in candidate Sandy Semans Ross of Manteo would be a welcome change on the board, and for that reason, we endorse her over incumbent Richard Johnson and newcomer to politics Alfred Jackson, both of Manteo
Ross recently retired as managing editor of The Outer Banks Sentinel and has had a 30-year career in journalism. She has done top-notch investigative stories on government operations and spending and is passionate about transparency in government.
She will bring her skills and passions to her tenure as a commissioner as the county faces such major challenges as revaluation, cutting the budget, and diversifying the economy.
She is the only write-in candidate on the ballot and it?s not hard to write in a candidate?s name. Give it a try. If you can?t remember the spelling, just write in ?Sandy? and the vote will be counted for her.
In the District 2 race, Republican Bob Woodard is facing Democrat Bob Muller.
We choose Bob Muller in this race because of his superior experience in government and his community involvement.
He retired in 2007 from the U.S. Postal Service. He was a Nags Head Commissioner for 16 years ? from 1985-2001 ? and was mayor of the town from 2001-2005. He has been chairman of the Outer Banks Community Development Corp. since 2007, is a board member of the Outer Banks Community Foundation, and serves on the Outer Banks Create the Future Initiative.
Early voting ended today at the Fessenden Center in Buxton and the Baum Center in Kill Devil Hills. You can vote from 8:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. tomorrow at the Board of Elections Office in Manteo.
Polls are open from 6:30 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 6.
This is an important election for Dare County voters. Be sure to vote.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Almost all of these candidates have Facebook pages and/or websites, which you can find if you Google them and where you can get more information on their experience and goals.
For more election information to find your precinct, go to The Dare County Board of elections website at http://www.darenc.com/boe/info.asp or to the North Carolina Board of Elections website at http://www.ncsbe.gov/.